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It Could Probably Get Worse · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
Show rules for this event
Serena tried not to mind the bitter cold seeping through her layers. Holding one arm tightly across her chest as the other kept a tight grip on her rifle, she locked her eyes on the snow-covered road and counted her steps. The weather could be worse; she could have come during the winter.

Forty-six, forty-seven, forty-eight.

She could remember the gas station on the left, where Daniel and her had made their first foraging trip.

Fifty-eight, fifty-nine.

The ruined office building where they found Cassandra, coated in Strix bliid and with only two rounds left. She'd proven helpful once they calmed her down and took her back to warmth in the village.

Seventy-three, seventy-four, seventy-five.

The department store; Serena had made her first kill there. Daniel had gone in ahead of her, while she looked through the drawers in the office. She heard a noise in the back, but just thought it was Daniel. She should have been buried there.

She remembered the footsteps, the tension, the click of the revolver's hammer. She still didn't remember turning around, only the gunshot. They never found out his name.

Ninety-three, ninety-four.

The diner where Daniel had died, three months ago. She dared a look at it. The windows were still broken, but crystalline Strix husks had blocked the view inside. Markers, forever, of how much his life cost the enemy that would never rest.

One hundred ten, one hundred eleven.

Now it was new territory. The cold wind still cut through her clothing, but as she kept moving, the heat managed to fight back. She looked up again, taking stock of her choices. On the left was a two-story building, with clear and shattered windows. Above the door was a worn and faded sign. Serena could barely make out the letters "phar". Medicine. The village always needed more

On the right was a taller building, four stories, but the roof had collapsed, and take the top floor with it. There weren't any signs, and the windows were tinted a dark black. She walked up to the door and made a mark on the wall beside it: two circles, with a vertical line cutting them in half. Scouted, unentered, possibly dangerous.

She turned back to the pharmacy, and stepped inside, both hands now securely on her rifle. The sunlight stretched far inside, showing mostly vacant shelves and snow-drifts that had encroached from outside. With a few steps inside, however, the wind died down enough for warmth to spread out from her chest, and she gave a sigh of relief.

Ears and eyes alert for anything, she made her way down the aisles. Anything that seemed widely useful was grabbed and placed in her pack, and the rest was left where it was found. She was finished with one aisle when she saw the counter, barely lit as deep into the store as it was.

Even in he shadows she could catch the telltale glimmer of Strix skin, but she heard no sound from it. She froze, breath caught in her throat. One meant a dozen. A dozen meant death. She was alone this time. She looked down, pulling the bolt back. Loaded. She pushed it back in. She hadn't fired yet. Left with ten. One more magazine in the jacket pocket, only six. Pistol on the hip, twelve rounds. Knife in the sleeve.

She saw the crystals move, and then the faint chittering of Strix, not from the body, but from upstairs, and the backroom. She began to back up. Finger on the trigger, stock on her shoulder. One flare in the pack, or was it two? Her breaths began to come quickly, but she closed her eyes a moment to calm them.

The chittering turned to silence, and Serena stopped. She was in the middle aisle, how far from the door? Halfway? She could run, but would they chase? The sunlight felt warm, but the wind chilled. Strix always hated light, but thrived in cold.

Then, it came from behind her. A shriek, ear-splitting. She turned, aimed, and fired. The world was fire and gunshots and glimmering crystalling skin. As soon as the body fell she ran, rifle in one hand as she fumbled for a flare and tossed it behind her at the doorway. It would mark the way, warn the next. The shrieks grew louder, and she thought of Daniel. She'd made the same mistake, again. At least this time, only her life had been on the line.
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#1 · 1
Hmmm… I’m of two minds here. There’s definitely a sense of suspense, a building tension, and while the world building is incomplete (we don’t really get what the Strix are, besides some crystalline nature, and how they came into being), it is sufficient for the reader to figure out what's going on. However the final scene is really confused, if only because we don’t really get where the character looks, what way she’s facing, so it makes difficult to us to really grasp what mistake she makes and probably costs her her life, as the end suggests.

Also, I don’t see the point of wasting lines to describe a building in which she finally doesn’t enter. This distracts from the plot, and with such a strapped allowance of words, you cannot permit yourself to wander away from the heart of the action. I feel if you had redacted this part and used the freed words to describe a bit more what happens at the end, the story would've been stronger.
#2 · 3
I feel like what this entry really needs is Will Smith and a dog.

Something I liked:

It's difficult to separate how much I like this story as it is and how much I would like it more if it was a story I imagine in my head, but one thing I think really works is the lack of dialogue. This is one of those minifics where nobody talks, and given the situation Serena finds herself in it makes perfect sense that she would be a silent protagonist. I feel that her sense of loneliness is conveyed pretty well just from the fact that she has no one to talk to, not even herself. She lives in a reality where she's reduced to making fight-or-flight animal decisions, and that's something we rarely see in post-apocalypse stories.

Something I didn't like:

In an effort to be thrilling, however, I feel like this entry grossly undoes its potential as a story about loneliness. The narrative spends a good deal of time describing the Strix and their behavior, yet I was never invested enough in these creatures to differentiate them from zombies, or the vampires from "I Am Legend." For the purposes of the narrative, they may as well be generic monsters that hunt down Serena (fast-moving zombies would do the trick), but the story seems unsure of itself in this regard. It's disappointing to see a mood piece like this be degraded and converted into a big spoopy monster tale.

Verdict: I like the first half a fair bit, but I wish the second half committed more.
#3 · 1
I keep coming back to this one. With each re-read, this piece never loses its atmosphere... I LIKE IT!

This is honestly a hard one to judge. The frugal use of words is spot-on in the fact that the author wastes no time with world building whilst developing a conflict. This in turn leaves the reader satisfied enough that the story could go on as it is with this hook, or leave it as is. I didn't know such a well put together piece was possible with the 750 word limit (just in case anybody's wondering, I have only participated in a couple rounds).

But, as always, there is much needed commentary for improvement. Going in the same vein as Monokeras and Raisin, this fic is held back by the tug of war between the description of the zombie alien enemy species (named Strix) and the action (common with thriller genres). Obviously, both are disjointed and are in need of repair. Maybe dropping off the reader in the thick of things, right as she enters the pharmacy and gets attacked would be a good start. Then, you could describe the grotesqueness of the Strix (or, judging by crystalline bodies, you can say they are beautiful, but deadly). Again, these are just suggestions. The fic is in a good spot. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Last things I need clarified:
Strix bliid

No joke, I tried to look bliid up. Did you mean blood?
The village always needed more

Is this an unfinished sentence? I feel like it is, just the fact that the period is missing throws me off.

Thanks for writing!
#4 · 2
Eerie. I like it.

I’ll jump on the bandwagon of saying that I’ve got two separate minds of this. I don’t think we need much about the strix. There’s enough atmosphere to this piece that we can infer their threat without details, and I’d argue this would better if you have even less about them. I’d actually argue what we do get detracts from them- this piece would work just as well if it were wolves, zombies, or anything in-between. The story’s strength is it’s cold, Emory atmosphere, and I think the monsters as-is distract us from that. Giving me more somehow makes me feel less invested. I spent more time focusing on the strix and trying to puzzle out what they were, when I wanted to focus on the piece- the strix serve the purpose of giving a threat to Serena. Anything beyond that, imo, makes them unnecessary.

But as I said before, this story’s atmosphere was superb. With so few words, I can see Serena and the climb she’s making. Not… clearly, necessarily, but it’s very evocative. I feel like I know the setting, even if I can’t properly visualize it, which is really impressive.
#5 ·
I really like the mood of this one, and the way you use short, punchy sentences to emphasize the feeling of loneliness. The tension feels like it has a lot of character to it, and overall does a great job of keeping me invested from start to finish.

Now I do want to note that from a pacing perspective, I think the step-counting set-up might have gone on just a little too long. By the second or third iteration, the reader's already gotten a good idea of how this framing device is working, and I think you can go ahead and do the whole "Now it's new territory" thing. By stretching it out to five separate flashbacks, you really risk the readers feeling like they're having other more interesting stories told at them rather than getting to see one unfold.

I also want to point out that I think the message/ending was a little on-the-nose. I mean, I'm personally someone who's fine with pretty tenuous links back to the prompt, so take my feedback with a grain of salt. It's just that the last paragraph calls to the prompt so strongly that it took me out of the story and had me thinking about the prompt, you know?

Overall, though, I think this is a pretty strong entry, and it's one of my favorites from this round. Thank you for writing!